Supporting creative work by women
Yasmine Lever will direct her play Land of Broken Toys at the New York International Fringe Festival this summer. She is an award-winning writer of plays, lyrics, prose, and journalism. She conceived and wrote the book and lyrics to Crush with music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, (Passing Strange). Crush has been workshopped at The Arcola Theater, (London) University Of The Arts (Philadelphia) And New York University. Her full-length play Next Stop Anywhere was part of The Midtown International Theater Festival in 2013. Her short plays have been performed in festivals all over London and New York including Old Vic New Voices, Theater 503, Pensive Federation, and The Flea among others. Her short musicals and songs have been performed at Signature Theater, Prospect Theater Company, The Cutting Room, The Metropolitan Room, The Duplex and The D lounge among others.
Yasmine spoke to Works by Women about the genesis of the Land of Broken Toys, the differences between working in the US and England, and why Playwrights Horizons gives her hope for women in American theater.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What was the genesis and/or inspiration for Land of Broken Toys?
YASMINE LEVER: The genesis, inspiration for Land Of Broken Toys was my desire to explore the more fractured aspects of peoples psyches. I believe we all have every trait in us and I want to create real flawed human beings who have the capacity to act in both positive and less positive ways.
WBW: You’ve got a terrific cast. How are rehearsals going? Tell me about working with them.
YL: I do have a terrific cast . I have to be honest this is something I tend to have been blessed with in all my shows. I honestly believe you can tell within seconds of an audition whether an actor has an instinct for your material or not.. If you cast your show correctly it makes your job as a director so much easier. On the occasions where I haven’t trusted my gut the rehearsal process has severely suffered.
I think rehearsals are going well. We did a lot of detailed table work before tackling the blocking.
WBW: Tell me about working with composer Or Matias and choreographer Rebecca Hidalgo.
YL: I love working with Or so much. We met at NYU where we collaborated together on musical material. Since then Or has gone on to have a stunning career as a musical director, working with such luminaries as our teacher Michael John LaChiusa and David Malloy. He is currently MDing and appearing in his new show Preludes at Lincoln Center.
Or is meticulous. He demands only the best of himself. I last worked with or when he wrote original music for my play Next Stop Anywhere which was part of The Midtown International Theater Festival two years ago, As well as being a truly fantastic composer Or has very highly developed dramatic instincts. He is always eager and willing to write music that best supports the story.
I have worked with choreographers before on their dance pieces and also on musicals. I have written and also performed as an actor who moves when I was young. This is my first time adding a movement component to a straight play but I had very clearly ideas of what I wanted. It has been great working with Rebecca creatively. Because this is the first time and because of time constraints we have kept things very simple, but I really would love to go and study with a company like Frantic Assembly in the future so I can develop my skills as I continue to use movement as another story telling tool.
WBW: You’ve worked in the US and England. Tell me about your experiences and how theater translates in different countries.
YL: I love working in both countries for different reasons. In England ticket prices are much cheaper so you are far more likely to find a younger audience. This, of course, affects the plays that are produced, and I find my darker material and less sympathetic characters are more easily accepted over there. The Equity rules are also different over there which makes the rehearsal process so much easier.
I trained both as a writer and an actor over here, and I feel the resources and communities this has provided are unparalleled. In England the process from written draft to full production seems to be quite short. Our process for Land of Broken Toys has been short too. One workshop at the Flea Theater, two performances at Manhattan Rep in May and now FringeNYC. But for other projects like my musical Crush the developmental process is much longer.
WBW: What’s next for you?
YL: A holiday? Writing, directing and co-producing has been hugely rewarding AND hugely demanding, especially when juggling these duties with other commitments. I used to feel guilty that I am someone who needs a social life. By that I don’t mean I need to be snorting coke off someone’s thigh in a hip club or anything. But in order for me to stay balanced I do need quality time hanging out with friends and family preferably discussing anything but the world of theater. That said I also adore all my artist friends in both countries and I find it exciting how many people I know are doing so well in their various mediums.
I’m a little superstitious about plugging work before it is one hundred percent firm. As I have mentioned I have been working on and off writing the book and lyrics to a musical Crush with music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald. There has also been embryonic talks of adapting one of my plays into a film and I plan to write the next straight play for my new theater company The Other Broadway.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
YL: I think one of the challenges facing humans in American theater today are ticket prices. Because the tickets are so expensive, the works put on are severely limited. With cheap or free tickets, the diversity of audience members and therefore the programming of plays would be wildly different.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
YL: Places like Playwrights Horizons doing an entire season of women playwrights. The amount of women represented at the Tonys this year.
Men and women playwrights writing more interesting female characters. By the way right now we have female artistic directors at more major theaters than ever before.
Land of Broken Toys plays at the New York International Fringe Festival this August. For more information, visit http://www.fringenyc.org.
Show photos by Dixie Sheridan 2015.